Love and lawsuits

If you’ve ever been through a breakup, you know it can get ugly. It used to be that couples had fights over dividing up their records. I mean actual vinyl records with music (Yes, I’m old enough to have actually spun records.). Now, because couples merge so much before the wedding, the split can get financially complicated and nasty.

Take a recent court case that the “Today” show featured.

Kendra Platt-Lee of San Diego broke off her engagement with Steven Silverstein. She gave him back the $32,000 ring.

But Silverstein is now suing his former sweetie for pre-wedding expenses, rent from two apartments the couple shared while dating and nearly $19,270 he claims she took from their joint bank account, reports Scott Stump, a TODAY.com contributor.

“I don’t think that I owe him any money at all,’’ Platt-Lee told NBC News from her home in San Diego. “I’m just your normal girl who fell out of love with somebody, and I didn’t feel it was right in my heart. I just didn’t feel I wanted to get married anymore so I broke it off. I just wanted to break up with somebody and move on, and it turned out that he just wants to drag this out.’’

Platt-Lee doesn’t think she owes Silverstein for the money spent on the wedding because she didn’t want all those lavish preparations. She wanted a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

“We started planning a wedding, and it was really over the top,” she said.

Breaking up is hard to do. But add money to the mix, and, well, you can get sued in our culture that loves litigation.

So this week’s Color of Money Question: Should a couple split the cost of a canceled wedding? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state, and put “Love and Lawsuits” in the subject line.

Let’s Chat Today

Join me at noon ET for my a live discussion with Zac Bissonnette, author of the Color of Money Book Club pick for May, “How to be Richer, Smarter and Better-Looking Than Your Parents.”

In his book, Bissonnette offers financial advice to young adults.

Be sure to send your questions in early or read the transcript later.

Wedding Destination Woes

Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax recently responded to a reader who wanted to know how to decline an invitation to attend a family member’s destination wedding. The reader can’t afford the travel expenses.

“My beloved aunt is bursting at the seams with excitement for her only child’s wedding in Hawaii next year,” the reader wrote. ”Any suggestions for softening the blow of not attending -- unless we hit the lottery?”

Hax advises the reader to skip the wedding, if she can’t afford it. “You tell your aunt you’re very sorry [but] you’ll be missing the wedding.”

I know it’s sometimes hard to be honest when family members who put pressure on you to do whatever. But financial honesty is always the best policy.

I agree with Hax. If you can’t afford to attend a wedding far from where you live, say so. Send a nice gift, if that’s in your budget. If the aunt or the couple or whoever gets upset, that’s the price you pay for having the courage to do what you can afford. If they want you to attend so badly, they can pay.

College Challenge

The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness, opinion writer Robert J. Samuelson has declared.

“Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners, it’s now doing more harm than good,” Samuelson says. “It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II.”

To be sure, college became the ticket to the middle class, Samuelson argues. But dropout rates are high. Washington Post financial reporters Ylan Q. Mui and Suzy Khimm recently reported, not surprisingly, that college dropouts are more likely to default on their education loans.

Nearly 30 percent of college students who took out loans dropped out of school, up from fewer than a quarter of students a decade ago, according to a recent analysis of government data by think tank Education Sector.

Many students, including those who graduate, are crippled by debt.

It’s time to stop telling everyone they “need” to go to college, Samuelson believes. I believe he makes some great points.

For example, vocational education is being de-emphasized and disparaged. Apprenticeship programs combining classroom and on-the-job training are sparse, Samuelson said.

“The rap against employment-oriented schooling is that it traps the poor and minorities in low-paying, dead-end jobs,” he wrote. “Actually, an unrealistic expectation of college often traps them into low-paying, dead-end jobs — or no job.”

What do you think? Have we gone too far pushing college as the only path to a good life? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state, and put “College Challenge” in the subject line.

Responses to “Good Money Tips”

Dave Carpenter, personal finance writer for the Associated Press, spoke with mothers who work in the financial industry and asked what pearls of financial wisdom they’re passing on to their children.

So for last week’s Color of Money question, I asked: “What’s the best money tip you got from your mom or pop?”

Avis Allen of Midlothian, Va., says the best money tip she got from her parents was to save 10 percent of what you earn and to tithe 10 percent.

“When I did this with my first job out of college, I saved from a very meager salary enough to pay for a year of grad school,” Allen wrote.

Lloyd Douglas of Greensboro, N.C, said his mother told him, “It’s not how much you make, it’s what you do with it.”

Douglas said, “That encouraged me to learn to manage my resources rather than to think that having more money was the solution to a personal financial problems.”

Allison Kuchta of Pittsburgh wrote: “My parents taught me to save for what you want. I have never known my parents to buy anything that cost more than $100 on impulse. They have a vacation account that they contribute to monthly, and they know roughly how much money they’ll need for their annual trip. They do not go over that amount. They also keep a similar account for Christmas gifts. My brother and I were taught - by example - not to use credit cards to buy what we want if we didn’t have the money, which is probably why at age 30 the only debt I have is student loans.”

“After I finished my first year working full time after college, I went to my dad to proudly show him my income tax return so he could see how much money I made,” Frank Lotrario of Perth Amboy, N.J., recalled. “I expected him to be very proud because my income was over twice as much as he ever earned in one year. He congratulated me, of course, but went on to say, ‘Son, next time don´t show me how much money you made, but how much you saved.’ It was a lesson I never forgot and influenced my attitude about money and spending for the rest of my life.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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